Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Review

With a name like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the Switch’s edition to Nintendo’s massively-successful crossover fighter certainly gave itself a lot to live up to. Somewhat miraculously, Ultimate manages to pull that very feat off, delivering what is undoubtedly the best entry in the long-running series to date. Bursting at the seams with content and fine-tuning the series’ gameplay, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate lives up to its lofty expectations, even if a lackluster adventure mode and a thin (and inconsistent) lineup of new fighters means it doesn’t quite surpass them.

Super Smash Bros. really doesn’t need an introduction at this point. The franchise has become one of Nintendo’s biggest sellers thanks to its engrossing gameplay, which combines elements of traditional fighting games with Mario Kart-esque party elements, all while incorporating sumo style rules that make it unique unto itself.

By ‘sumo style’ rules, I of course refer to Super Smash Bros’ key mechanic of sending opponents off the screen – similar to sumos throwing each other out of the ring – in order to defeat them, as opposed to depleting a health bar as in most fighters. Though with that said, the ‘Stamina mode’ first introduced to the series in Melee, in which players do deplete each other’s health, returns as one of Ultimate’s primary game modes, no longer relegated to a kind of bonus mode as in the past.

That seemingly small change is indicative of the very nature of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. This is the Super Smash Bros. that attempts to legitimize every play style for the series, and to appease every type of Smash fan. And for the most part, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate wildly succeeds in doing just that.

If you’re a serious Smash player, you can remove items and play on flat stages a la Final Destination or small stages with minimal platforms in the vein of the classic Battlefield stage, with no match-altering Final Smashes included. Players who want chaotic fun can have all items active, Final Smashes turned on, and enable every last, crazy stage hazard and gimmick. Or, if you’re somewhere in between, you can play on the standard stages with the gimmicks turned off, only allow Final Smashes by means of building up a power meter during battle, and only enable the occasional Pokeball and Assist Trophy in regards to items.

The ways in which you can customize matches are boundless. This really is the Super Smash Bros. that can appeal to any Nintendo fan. At least in terms of the core gameplay, that is.

If there is one glaring downside with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, it’s with the game’s adventure mode. Dubbed ‘World of Light,’ Ultimate’s adventure mode is mind-numbingly tedious, and simply not worth the time and effort it takes to see it to the end.

In World of Light, players initially take control of Kirby, the only survivor of a Thanos-style mass extinction, as they progress through one battle after another, unlocking the other characters and collecting ‘Spirits,’ which are won after defeating opponents in possession of said Spirits.

These Spirits are a new feature in Ultimate, replacing the series’ long-standing trophy collectibles. It’s ultimately an unfair trade. While the trophies of Smash’s past featured unique character models and gave some insights into Nintendo (and gaming) history, the Spirits are merely presented as stock promotional art from past games, and provide statistical bonuses to your characters when equipped. Spirits can grant boosts to attributes like strength or speed, or provide you with a special ability (such as starting fights with a particular item, or being resistant to certain types of attacks).

This may sound interesting in concept, but it kind of goes against the very nature of Super Smash Bros. This is a fighting series all about learning the different play styles of the various characters. So if you have Spirits activated in the standard game, it makes things more about who has the best Spirits equipped, as opposed to who played the best in any given round.

Suffice to say the Spirits find all of their appeal in the single player World of Light mode. Though even then, the game often mishandles their usage. Pulling a page out of Paper Marios Sticker Star and Color Splash, there are a number of battles in World of Light in which it is necessary to have specific Spirits equipped in order to win. If the Spirits gave you advantages in these situations, that’d be fine. But on more than one occasion you will come across a battle in which victory is impossible unless you have a specific Spirit equipped.

Another issue with World of Light is that it’s just too long for its own good. It features an unnecessary amount of branching paths, alternate routes, and  overall battles. And when it finally looks like you’re done with it, World of Light pulls a Ghosts ‘N’ Goblins on the player and extends the adventure by rather lazy means. To detract from the experience even further, World of Light is exclusively played by a single player. Super Smash Bros. Brawl’s adventure mode, Subspace Emissary, was far from a winner, but at least I could play that with a friend.

Not to mention Subspace Emissary served as a fast means of unlocking every character. But World of Light just drags on and on, with the lonesome tedium making you seek one of the many other means of unlocking the characters (thankfully, there are no shortage of options when it comes to expanding the roster). The fact that World of Light actually makes me long for Subspace Emissary could be a sign that maybe Super Smash Bros. is better off without an adventure mode at all.

Of course, the adventure mode is just a small part of the overall package, and every other mode included in the game delivers in spades: Classic Mode is more fun than ever, and includes unique challenges for every last fighter. Tournaments are easier to set up than ever before. New Squad Strikes have players selecting teams of characters and eliminating them one by one. Smashdown sees players cycle through the entire roster one at a time, with previously selected characters getting locked out after use. The variety never ceases to impress.

On the concept of variety, the biggest selling point of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is that every playable character from the franchise’s history is present. If they were playable in a past Super Smash Bros. title, they’re playable here. So those of you who missed Solid Snake for being omitted from Super Smash Bros. on Wii U/3DS, he’s back. Young Link and Toon Link can now face off against one another. Pichu makes his return after seventeen years (they can’t all be winners). The DLC characters from Wii U/3DS return. Even the good ol’ Ice Climbers have found their way back to the series, after technical limitations on the 3DS prevented their appearance in the last installments. And yes, we even get a handful of new characters joining the fray, meaning that Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has all of the character variety of each and every one of its predecessors put together and then some.

“You’re the man now, Croc!”

Speaking of the new characters, that’s where things can be a bit inconsistent when it comes to selections. Ridley and King K. Rool feel like the most meaningful newcomers, given that they’ve been in high demand from fans since Melee. Splatoon’s Inklings also make sense as they represent one of Nintendo’s contemporary success stories. And Simon Belmont feels long overdue in the third-party character department (seriously, besides Mega Man, what other third-party character even compares to Castlevania’s early history with Nintendo?).

The remaining newcomers, however, are a bit of a mixed bag. Isabelle from Animal Crossing – though a welcome addition in her own right – doesn’t exactly come across as a character fans were dying to see join the series. Incineroar feels like he could have been any randomly selected Pokemon. And the downloadable Piranha Plant just feels like a big middle finger to the fans who have been requesting their favorite characters for years. That’s not to say that these characters detract from the gameplay by any means. But for a series so grounded in fanservice, some of these character selections feel misguided.

“Evil kings from classic series are the coolest!”

Perhaps with more newcomers the more disappointing entries wouldn’t stick out so much. But with most of the emphasis going towards bringing back every past character, you kind of wish that the smaller quantity of newcomers would have translated to a consistent quality. And that’s unfortunately not always the case.

Some fans may also lament that clone characters – now officially referred to as “echo fighters” – are still present, but at least now they’re categorized appropriately, and not treated as though they’re full-on additions to the franchise.

“The colors, Duke! The colors!”

Still, it’s hard to complain too much when Ultimate boasts seventy unique characters (with more on the way via DLC. Here’s hoping some favorites make the cut). There’s simply never a shortage of characters to choose from, and all of them bring their own sense of fun to the gameplay (with the possible exceptions of the excessive amount of sword fighters from Fire Emblem, who often feel interchangeable even when they aren’t clones).

Each character’s Final Smash has also been altered this time around, as they take on a more cinematic approach. Unfortunately, while the Final Smashes look more impressive than ever, their infrequent interactivity makes them less fun than in previous installments. This was probably done for the sake of balance, which is admirable. Though chances are, if you have Final Smashes active, you aren’t exactly aiming for a balanced, competitive bout.

The stages also adhere to Ultimate’s “everything but the kitchen sink” mentality. Although there are a few omissions, the majority of stage’s from past Super Smash Bros. titles make a return (unfortunately, Brawl’s Electroplankton-inspired stage is bafflingly among them). There are only four brand-new stages in the base game: Odyssey and Breath of the Wild themed levels for Mario and Zelda, and courses based on newly-represented series Splatoon and Castlevania. That may not sound like a whole lot of newness, but more stages are planned to be added along with the DLC characters. Besides, with the returning courses, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate includes over one-hundred different locations to do battle. And as stated, every last stage comes in three different versions (standard, Battlefield, and Final Destination), so you’re not very likely to get bored from repetition.

For those who don’t always have someone at the ready for some couch multiplayer, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate also expands the series’ online capabilities. Creating online matches has been streamlined by means of creating arenas, where players can set the rules as they see fit. You can even search for specific rulesets if you want to join an arena that’s more to your play style (though admittedly, the search engine needs some work). It’s now much, much easier to set up or join an online match and play with or against Smash players from around the world.

Sadly, the online functionality still isn’t perfect. Though lag is considerably less frequent than in Brawl or Wii U/3DS, it’s still present more often than you’d like. It isn’t limited to worldwide matches, either. I’ve encountered some slowdowns in games against my friends. Again, the lag isn’t so common as to detract from the overall experience, but considering that in five years’ time I’ve never encountered any lag issues in Mario Kart 8 (whether on Wii U or Switch), you have to wonder how and why Nintendo can’t replicate that level of online functionality with their other multiplayer franchises.

Other quibbles with the online mode include some minor (but no less irritating) design quirks, such as leaving your place in cue for the next fight in an arena just to change your character’s color (let alone change your character). Or why entering the spectator stands also removes you from cue (why the cue and spectator stands aren’t one and the same is anyone’s guess). Again, these are all just minor annoyances, but you have to wonder why they’re there at all.

Of course, it must be emphasized that, with the exception of the World of Light adventure mode, all of the complaints to be had with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate are minor grievances in the big picture. The series’ signature gameplay has never felt so polished, the content has never felt this endless, and with every last character in franchise history present, Super Smash Bros. has never felt this complete.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is also a technical showcase of the Switch’s capabilities. Though it retains a similar overall look to Super Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS and Brawl, the graphics are much sharper and more refined. The level of background detail in the stages themselves – often so small you’d never see them in the heat of battle – is a testament to the abilities of the artists behind the game. The character animations are similarly impressive, especially those with unique characteristics (such as DK’s eyes bulging out of his head when hit, Donkey Kong Country-style; or Wario’s manic, sporadic movements).

Complimenting these visuals is a soundtrack that represents an unrivaled array of video game music, featured in both their original and new remixed forms in addition to many remixes from past Super Smash Bros. installments. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s quite as many new pieces of music added into the fray as Brawl and Wii U/3DS brought to the table, but it’s hard to complain too much when the music is this terrific. Not to mention the soundtrack to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is inarguably the biggest library of classic video game themes ever compacted into a single game.

On the whole, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is an absolute winner. Its overall sense of newness may not be as prominent as the past few entries, but its inclusion of the best elements of every past installment, along with each and every last one of their characters, makes this the definitive entry in the long-running Super Smash Bros. series to date. With the exception of its egregious adventure mode, everything about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is exploding with fun. With so many characters, stages, modes, and options, the content included in the package is seemingly bottomless, leading to an unparalleled replay value.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is not only the best game in the series, it’s one of the greatest multiplayer games ever made.

 

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Pikmin 3 Review

Pikmin 3

 

Although there was a nine-year gap in between Pikmin 2 and this sequel, Pikmin veterans will feel right at home with Pikmin 3, and newcomers will be delighted to find that it serves as a great introduction to the series. Pikmin 3 overcomes the large gap in between releases by being accessible to gamers of all ranges of experience with the series, in the process delivering the deepest Pikmin title yet.

Longtime Pikmin fans will notice the absence of series protagonist Captain Olimar. In his place are three new characters: Alph, Brittany and Charlie, who travel to the Pikmin planet to bring fruit and seeds to their starving home planet of Koppai. Olimar still finds his way into the plot, with his notes on the planet’s wildlife (primarily the Pikmin) being conveniently strewn about the environments, giving players mini-tutorials in the process.

Pikmin 3In order for the three heroes to gather the fruit they need, they of course require the help of the Pikmin found on the planet. The original three Pikmin types return with their abilities intact (Red Pikmin are slightly stronger and immune to fire. Blue Pikmin can swim. Yellow Pikmin are immune to electricity and can be thrown higher than the others). They are now joined by two brand new Pikmin types: Rock Pikmin and Winged Pikmin.

The Rock Pikmin can be used to break away tough obstacles and daze enemies with a sucker punch-like first strike, while Winged Pikmin, as their name suggests, can fly. The two new Pikmin types add an interesting dynamic to the gameplay, and their additions mean that plenty of the game’s puzzles take full advantage of their abilities (as well as those of the returning Pikmin). Pikmin 2 fans might be disappointed that the powerful Purple Pikmin and poisonous White Pikmin aren’t to be found in the game’s story mode, but rest assured they do make appearances in Pikmin 3′s mission mode and multiplayer Bingo Battle.

Pikmin 3Pikmin 3 retains similar gameplay to its predecessors. You still pluck Pikmin from the ground, gather  pellets to gain more troops, solve puzzles, and fight large (and some not-so-large) enemies. So Pikmin 3 doesn’t exactly reinvent the series, but it does refine it. Calling your Pikmin from their Onion (the Pikmin spaceship) at the beginning of each in-game day has been streamlined. Instead of each Pikmin type having their own Onion you have one big Onion, which gains access to each new Pikmin type as you discover them.

Scheduling the aforementioned in-game days is easier than ever. The days and nights still go by, and you still have to make sure your Pikmin are either in their Onion or in the presence of one of the three characters before the sun sets (lest they get eaten by beasties), but Pikmin 3 lacks the 30 day time limit of the original game, and it leaves behind the dungeons concept of Pikmin 2, which makes it a bit easier to plan out each individual day in the game. Go gather a few pieces of fruit one day, maybe go after a boss the next, or just spend a day building your Pikmin army. In terms of its core gameplay Pikmin 3 has pretty much fine-tuned the best aspects of the series, and trimmed the fat of its predecessors.

Pikmin 3Combat is still as fun as ever, even if it may not be as much of a focus as it was in Pikmin 2. The beasts that inhabit the Pikmin planet are a bizarre range of creatures that showcase Nintendo character design at its most creative. Each monster you come across presents its own little puzzle. Some will be more obvious (if its a slug made out of fire, use the Red Pikmin), while others will be more strategic (such as a giant enemy crab that requires hefty Rock Pikmin to break its claw, and Blue Pikmin to attack it from the back when in submerges itself). The character design alone is a thing of beauty, the fact that Nintendo was creative enough to bring out all aspects of Pikmin 3′s gameplay through its bestiary just makes it all the more fun.

It should be noted that Pikmin 3 was the first Nintendo game to really take advantage of the Wii U’s HD capabilities. Yes, New Super Mario Bros. U and Nintendo Land were pretty enough to look at, but the former stuck too close to the established aesthetics, while the latter purposefully used a more simplistic approach to its visuals. But Pikmin 3 is the first in-house Nintendo game to really take advantage of HD, and it looks gorgeous.Pikmin 3

Lush environments, eye-popping colors, lovingly crafted details, every inch of Pikmin 3 is simply pleasing to the eyes. It’s hard to think of very many HD games that are half as colorful as this.

Pikmin 3 is equally pleasing to the ears. While its soundtrack may not be as instantly infectious as Mario or as emotional as Zelda, Pikmin 3′s score is elegant, atmospheric, and very fitting to the nature of the game. The music is calm and chirpy in the game’s sun-drenched locales, but becomes bombastic and epic during one of the (often difficult) boss fights.

Pikmin 3 admittedly has a couple of small drawbacks that should be addressed. The first is the most obvious. The Wii U Gamepad – while effective in the control of the characters and in providing players with a map (complete with RTS-style fog of war) – provides some control issues in regards to aiming. You may find it difficult to accurately throw Pikmin on a flying foe, and it can feel a bit awkward trying to toss Pikmin in high to reach places. Pikmin 3 gives you the option to play with a Wii remote and nunchuck combo, which may actually be a better means of control all around. You can’t be too hard on Pikmin 3 for not being the best showcase of the Gamepad though, as the game had been in development for the Wii for years before being moved to the Wii U.

There’s also the issue with the Pikmin AI getting a little “confused” at times. You may find that a few Pikmin have gotten lost somewhere on the map more often than you’d like. Some may also cry foul at the rather short length of the story mode after having waited so long between sequels, but while the adventure may be compact, Pikmin 3 makes the most of everything it has to work with.

But these are small complaints when the whole package is this engaging. If you have any friends over you can enjoy a game of Bingo Battle, in which two player armies try to gather the objects from a bingo card in order to gain that ever-elusive bingo, all while hindering the other player – Mario Kart style – with a host of items and power-ups.

Pikmin 3Mission Mode provides additional replayability, with missions asking players to put their skills to the test and clear an area of collectible items, defeating all enemies on the map, or besting one of the game’s bosses in the fastest time.

When all is said and done, Pikmin 3 is not just a welcome and long-awaited return for the series, it’s the most refined and balanced – and all around best – entry in the Pikmin series to date. Although seeing the ghosts of fallen Pikmin may teeter on depressing, Pikmin 3 represents Nintendo’s knack at making games that exude charm, deep gameplay and, dare I say, magic.

We may have waited nine years, but it feels as though Pikmin never went anywhere.

 

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